1453

March 31 2015

For the ‘Osmanlis 1453 was symbolic of the virtual completion of their conquest and political reunification of the main body of Eastern Orthodox Christendom, though the decisive step in a process that took about one hundred and fifty years, from first to last, had been the Ottoman occupation of Macedonia eighty years earlier, in 1372-1373. By “the main body” of Eastern Orthodox Christendom I mean the region, astride the Straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, which embraces the habitats, at that time, of the Greeks, Georgians, Bulgars, Serbs, and Romans – in fact, all the Eastern Orthodox Christian peoples except the Russians. This region comprises two peninsulas, Anatolia and the Balkan Peninsula. Macedonia, not Constantinople, is the strategic key to the rest of the Balkan Peninsula and indeed to the whole of Southeast Europe. And the center of gravity of Eastern Orthodox Christendom had shifted from Anatolia to the Balkan Peninsula in the eleventh century. In seeking their fortunes on the European side of the Straits, and pushing forward to the Danube before moving towards the Euphrates, the ‘Osmanlis had given striking evidence of their political sagacity.

For the Greeks 1453 was symbolic of the end of the East Roman Empire, though the decisive event in its breakup had been the conquest of Constantinople by the Franks in 1204, a quarter of a millennium before the conquest of the former imperial city by the ‘Osmanlis. The fall of Constantinople in 1204 had been a truly historic event. It had shattered the East Roman Empire irretrievably; and, between that date and the establishment of the Ottoman Empire in the fourteenth century, the main body of Eastern Orthodox Christendom had been in a state of anarchy. The East Roman Empire, which the Franks destroyed in 1204, was an eighth-century renaissance of the Roman Empire (which, in its central and eastern provinces, had gone to pieces at the beginning of the seventh century, after having held together here for two hundred years longer than in its outlying and backward western provinces). […]

The date 1453 was also symbolic for the Russians and for the Franks. For the Russians it signified that the original Rome’s title to world-dominion had passed from “the Second Rome,” Constantinople, to a “Third Rome,” which was Moscow. As the Russians saw it, the fall of Constantinople to the ‘Osmanlis in 1453 was the retribution meted out by God to the Greeks for their betrayal of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in A.D. 1439, when, at the ecclesiastical Council of Florence, their official representatives had acknowledged the supremacy of the Roman See over the Eastern Orthodox churches in the vain hope of purchasing effective Frankish military help at the price of this act of religious apostasy. For the Franks 1453 signified that Western Christendom had now become the trustee of the Ancient Greek culture, which, at this date, the Franks equated with “Culture” with a capital “C.” By this time, the Franks had learned to treasure every fragment of Ancient Greek statuary and every scrap of Mediaeval Greek manuscript of any text of Ancient Greek literature, though, unfortunately, the fifteenth-century Frankish humanists’ barbarous thirteenth-century ancestors had felt no interest in any Ancient Greek writer except Aristotle and had found no better use for Ancient Greek bronze statues than to chop them up and mint the pieces into petty cash.

The Ottoman Empire in World History, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol 99, No 3, June 15 1955; delivered Philadelphia, November 11 1954

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